Book review: Stories for Simon

by Lisa Miranda Sarzin, illustrated by Lauren Briggs (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857987440
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Published with permission from Buzz Words

Stories for Simon represents more than just a beautifully conceptualised picture book, but a foray to discuss social and cultural issues, mutual respect and the importance of reconciliation and positivity in looking forward.  

Lisa Miranda Sarzin and Lauren Biggs have created a respectful contemporary reflection on Australia’s Stolen Generations that balances delicately between fiction and non-fiction.

Written under the mentorship of Bidjigal Elder, Vic Simms, Sarzin and Biggs skilfully explain the story of Simon who through a gift of a boomerang, comes to understand the history of the Stolen Generations, the significance of reconciliation and the lessons that all future Australian children can learn in order to pave a harmonious, meaningful society.

Simon’s passage is told in a contemplative, well-researched tone that sees him interacting with his family, school and a boy named Vic who is able to introduce Simon to his own family’s history as part of the Stolen Generations. Each relationship reinforces Simon’s understanding of reconciliation and the significance of Kevin Rudd’s apology on behalf of Australia in 2008.  

Despite the delicate nature of the text, Stories for Simon is united with the evocative illustrations by Lauren Biggs. The use of strong primary colours is unexpected and presents a new way of documenting Australian stories which are typically reliant on warm hues. The pages related to the telling of Aboriginal Dreamtime and Simon’s own dreams are whimsical but graphically strong.

Stories for Simon is the first picture book for both Sarzin and Biggs yet all their royalties will be donated to the GO Foundation, an educational initiative to support Indigenous Australian children founded by 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes and his cousin Michael O’Loughlin.

School libraries will find this an essential part of their collection. The prospects for discussion and project work around reconciliation themes are extensive, while inspiring children to contemplate what Australia they wish to create.  

Book review: Meet Banjo Paterson

Reproduced with the permission of Buzz Words.

Meet Banjo Paterson by Kristin Weidenbach, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-008-3
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

While lurching at a copy of Meet Banjo Paterson, I was immediately reminded of my grade 4 public speaking performance of Clancy of the Overflow, (that and Jack Thompson’s blonde mustache). As our English teacher’s comb over floated celestially above his head during enthusiastic rehearsals, we were blithely unaware of the man behind the poem; the boy then the man who was to become Banjo Paterson.

Meet Banjo Paterson is the seventh book in the Meet… series from Random House, a collection of non-fiction picture books aimed at uncovering the people behind Australia’s most well-loved and infamous icons including Ned Kelly, Mary MacKillop, Captain Cook and Douglas Mawson. 

Kristin Weidenbach and illustrator James Gulliver Hancock, set the scene for a young Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo), a boy who lived and loved the Australian bush, particularly horses and bush life. Weidenbach’s evocative tone creates a clear description of what life was like in the second half of the 19th century. 

This is contrasted beautifully with the backdrop of the industrial revolution and the cities where Banjo worked as lawyer in later in life. His love of the Australian outback and fascination with Bushmen is translated as a lasting vehicle of Australia’s heritage.  

James Gulliver Hancock’s illustrations enrich the palate of colonial Australia with muted hues and the use of black chalk to portray a coal and campfire society. The colours including deep reds and purples are indicative of those naturally found in banksias and wild lavender. While the stylized art is a rich collage of Australian bush imagery, the typeface is clean and easy to read, so as not to detract from the overflowing pictures. The font reinforces the non-fiction nature of the book and is interwoven with excerpts from Paterson’s poems and stories such as Waltzing Matilda and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.

I love that Weidenbach’s retelling of Banjo Paterson’s life creates a vibrant and engaging experience while the timeline of his life at the back of the book gifts insights about the man rarely known. The Man from Snowy River is part of Australia’s DNA, however I was unaware that when it was released it sold out within a week and broke Australian publishing records (without the aid of that internet thing). As an educational tool teachers will love the way it can inspire further research on the life and times of the man but as an example of writers impacting their community.

Kristin Weidenbach’s previously published non-fiction book Tom the Outback Mailman won the 2013 CBCA Eve Pownall Award. James Gulliver Hancock has an extensive background in advertising, animation and technical drawing. Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers is his compilation of profiles detailing interesting facts about famous historical figures presented as highly stylized infographics.